Mars Hill Church in Ballard, Seattle.
My visit to Mars Hill Church was emotional. At first, I was in a bit of awe. Overwhelmed, you could say. Then excited about the music. Then curious, skeptical, surprised by the sheer audacity, and finally, outright pissed off. I left in a huff.
This. Church. Sucks.
They should change their name to Mar$ Hill Church. It’s all about the money.
So, with that happy introduction, let’s begin:
I was a bit impressed walking into the place. It was a big boxy looking warehouse of a place, in a fairly industrial part of Seattle near the channel that connects the Puget Sound and Eliott Bay with Lake Washington. There are a lot of warehouses and docks and big rusty ships all over the place. The area smells like something’s been sitting in seawater for just a little too long, and the seagulls are noisy and since they’re overhead, threatening a kind of rain you don’t want rained on you.
The inside of the building was rather nicely appointed. A huge lobby, with a “bookstore” area that was actually a bunch of tables with books and prices on them. Thirteen books for sale in all, and seven of them for sale by Paster Mark Driscoll, who according to a sign, was the guy who was going to be giving the sermon. It was a series on the Book of Acts, and you could buy his book about it right there. You could also buy two different varieties of bibles.
Well, I don’t begrudge a church selling books. I mean, they have to do something to make a little dough, right? And after all, what’s a church without a bookstore that sells bibles and other religious stuff? And some of these were on sale! It made me almost want to purchase one. But I didn’t.
Then I walked into the Sanctuary, and the phrase “Holy SHIT!” popped involuntarily into my head. I might have said it out loud, sometimes I do that. It was huge. Where the previous little community church I visited in the morning could maybe hold 70-90 people, this place could easily hold 400. I was a little early, and there were probably already 200 people in there. It was loud. It was darkened, and it was … hip.
Being here made me feel old. Most of the people I saw were in their 20′s or 30′s, about 60% male, and many of them rocking side burns, horn-rimmed glasses and flannel shirts. I was about to hunker down amongst the largest group of hipsters I had ever seen. For the record, I don’t have a problem with hipsters, and even though I throw that term out, I have to confess that I’m still confused as to exactly what it means. But that doesn’t stop me from using it.
There was a huge sound and video pit, with some mighty modern-looking equipment. There were tall round tables with barstools in the back near long tables that served genuine Starbucks coffee. I know, because I had some. But the most impressive thing in the entire giant room was the stage.
Or rather what was on the stage. A drum kit, bass guitar, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar, with microphones and the whole nine yards. I was not informed that there was going to be Rock & Roll. But Rock & Roll there was.
After a while, the band came out and started to play a hymn. I sat down in the second row. I wanted to get Full Frontal Fundamentalism, and so I sat close to the band.
They were pretty good. Kind of like an amateur U2, if U2 did Modern Rock Gospel. The Rhythm Guitar player was also the lead singer, and in between hymns, he read passages out of a bible. There were no hymnals or bibles in the pews, but the words to the hymns were on big projection screens along with images of the band playing. It was kind of fun.
After the band got done playing two (or maybe three) hymns, a “pastor” cam out and talked very briefly. I put the word in quotes because although he referred to himself as “Pastor John,” he didn’t give a sermon. He was there to introduce the guy who wrote all the books.
I was ready. When John said, “Okay, that’s all I’m going to say, let’s get to it!” I thought, “All right!”
Then, to my disappointment, the lights went down, and a big screen came down over the stage, and a video began playing of Pastor Mark.
The dude wasn’t in the building. He might not have been in the same state. Everybody else that I could observe was pretty excited to see his pre-recorded image though. There was a cheer throughout the huge room. I grumbled a little.
It became pretty clear, by the production quality, the fades and swipes, and other video tricks, and by the perfectly timed applause and perfectly timed laughter at his jokes that his “audience” in the video wasn’t really a church audience, although it was kind of designed to look that way. I think someone was just off camera with an “applause” or “laugh” sign.
Update: I have been informed, in no uncertain terms, that the audience was an actual church audience taped live at another church.
So, what was Pastor Mark’s electronic message from God?
Well, according to his newest book, which he mentioned quite a few times, it was about the Book of Acts, describing the life of Jesus. Which I must say, he did a very good job of summarizing and lecturing about. If one believes that Jesus really lived, and if one believes that the Book of Acts is an accurate depiction of His life, than one could feel like one was participating in a very well presented lecture on history. It was entertaining. It was informative. It was easy to watch. I could easily imagine seeing it on the History Channel. It was that good.
Update: I’ve been educated on the Book of Acts. It’s not about the life of Jesus. I was confused by this because Pastor Driscoll talked a lot about Jesus while also talking about Acts, and I didn’t follow his talk as well as I could have.
The first part of his sermon… the part about Jesus… lasted close to 40 minutes. Here’s what I put in my notes about it:
- The bible is the literal, ineffable, inerrant truth.
- Luke, the author of Acts, was financed by Theophile, who was a great man because he gave a lot of money to Luke
- Luke was kind of like an investigative reporter, and spent all of his money for the Lord, and was blessed by this act
- Christianity is not a philosophy. It’s a history.
- Jesus has a mission for us. We have to follow his mission. His mission is to spread his power and glory by expanding the church. Nothing else we do is as important as this. This requires money.
- Wasting the power of Jesus on things that aren’t worthy is bad. Charity, for example, if it doesn’t advance the church, could be considered wasting the power of Jesus. Spending charity on expanding the power and glory of Jesus is a good way to use the power of Jesus.
- “Pastor” Mark stumbled over big words. I don’t think he wrote that sermon. I think he’s like a news anchor. He pronounced “Syria” as “Sigh-REE-ah” after stumbling over it. Dude. Syria is a modern country and it was in the news on Friday. You should know how to say Syria.
- He doesn’t like Pentacostal people, and dissed Pentacostal women in particular, saying that they looked like they lost a paint gun fight. By which I presume he means they wear too much makeup, but I’m not 100% certain.
- He told an amusing story about Jesus ascending to heaven after having been resurrected, comparing that to when his son let a balloon go to see what would happen. Everybody in the
fakeon-screen audience laughed. Everybody in the reallocal audience was a little confused, but laughed after the fake audience laughed.
When he was done with the first part of his sermon, he started talking about money. Well, he had been talking about money all along really, but now he started talking about the audience giving money. Here’s what I learned:
- The Rainier Valley Mars Hill church gave the least amount of tithes and offerings, and they need to do better. It was on a huge graph comparing them with the other Mars Hill churches. Lake Samamish was the best. Ballard was in the middle.
- Mars Hill is getting lots of money (praise the lord) but it’s short of its goal by a million bucks, because it’s only at about 92% of the goal amount. Everyone give to get us past that 8%!
- They need an additional $475,000 to open a church in Everett, and another amount (I didn’t write down) to open a church in Tacoma.
- There aren’t bibles or hymnals in the pews, but there are cards that can be filled out, postage guaranteed, where you can make a donation by putting in your credit/debit card, VISA, Amex, Discover, MasterCard, enclose a check, and even sign an authorization for a “recurring gift” on the 5th of the month, the 20th of the month, or the 5th and the 20th of the month.
The card says:
Our time, our treasure, and our talents are all generous gifts from our generous God. Because of this, we give cheerfully, regularly, and sacrificially of our finances as part of our worship to Him. We strive to steward these gifts well through this church so that more people can meet Jesus (2 Corinthians 8-9).
It’s all about Jesus.
My interpretation: The only way to improve the world is to spread the word through expanding the church. And to do that, we need money. It’s all about Je$u$.
After the video screens went up, eighteen people (I counted them) walked around with Kentucky-Fried Chicken sized paper buckets collecting tithes. And the flock was generous.
The last thing I participated in was Communion, where we lined up in one of eight lines to dip a cookie into a cup of wine and eat it. The cookie would have been fine by itself, being, I think, some kind of pecan sandy or similar shortbread. But the wine made it kind of weird and sour. I didn’t enjoy my transubstantiation experience.
By then, I had had enough. I left, while something that sounded a lot like the wailing guitars of Where the Streets Have No Names was playing with a young Bono-sounding guy belting out a song to God.
So, I mentioned in the top of this post that I was angry. Why? Because this church has no redeeming value. Pun intended. But it is very successful, and quite wealthy. It’s attendees are fooled into thinking that spending their hard-earned treasure in this way will get them into heaven. They have been duped. The people who run this church are flim flam artists, and this upsets me.
I was expecting a fundamentalist church with which I wouldn’t agree. I know they believe that women shouldn’t hold positions of authority over men, and that the bible is literally true. I did not expect it to be a money scam.
Being good to your fellow human: 0 (no mention)
Help your community: -1 (discourages charity)
Be good to yourself: 0 (no mention)
Good and timely advice: -1 (giving money will make you happy)